Graham Brocklebank went back to college in his late twenties too study, only to realise that the text to speech and speech to text software he needed hadn’t advanced whatsoever since he had last been in education. As he was studying Computer science in mobile application, he put together an app that helped him with his reading and studying. Once he graduated college he founded www.Peer.ie a text to speech and speech to text web-application for people with dyslexia or other intellectual disabilities.
1. What’s your background, what inspired you to create Peer?
I began learning coding from YouTube, and 10 years after leaving college I went back to education. I joined the National College of Ireland to study Computer Science in mobile applications. I found the assistive technologies were the exact same as 10 years previously. There was no innovation, even with all the innovation with phones and the development of the internet. I needed to read my notes, but the voices of the assistive tech are very hard to listen too and I couldn’t access it on most platforms. I created a quick mobile app to help me with my reading and then later with my writing. That was the first prototype of Peer.
2. What’s Peer’s mission? In a crowded field what makes it stand out?
Peer’s mission is to support the short term and long term development of people with dyslexia, inside and outside of education. Our goal is the end user – the person with dyslexia. When we looked at the market we found our competitors were only available on a laptop. But students are using multiple devices to learn, but they were trying to read their notes outside of their laptop and this was unavailable. If the student wanted to get access they only had the laptop. It was a broken user experience in the way that they were learning. Peer is fully web based which is accessible by all devices and once you have an internet connection you can access it.
3. Why did you decide to start the company as a Profit with a purpose enterprise? Rather than a for profit company?
The money that we make from the product we reinvest into the product and the company. We’re looking at not just helping people with education, we’re working with another NGO and 2 universities – when a student uses the platform we work with them to get the student an extended six months after leaving college and to have the same account if they take further education courses. We’re also working with students to develop their LinkedIn, a CV and give them advice and help from experts in the area to get them the best chance as other students.
4. Is there anything that you would change if you could go back and start again?
I would have made the decision to start sooner, but at the time I didn’t have the information at hand. But I feel like I should have seen certain things down the line. I wanted to be only a mobile app, but as we evolved I realised that this wasn’t possible, but we are where we are now. I’ve always treated it as an iterative product, but the path changes and changes consistently, but other than that I’m very happy with how the company has evolved.
5. How do you go about acquiring customers, what marketing channels do you find works best?
What we found best is to target the B2B market, if anything we’re a B2E (business to education) because we target third level. The channel I find best is cold call emails. I spend a lot of time researching the education sector. I then selected the ones that match our criteria, with a set student population, and a range of other conditions, we then set up meetings with the appropriate staff – that’s what works best for us.
6. You start with a free trial, why did you decide to do this rather than other business models?
The only other business model is that you pay up front, but for us dealing with students with dyslexia, we felt our model was the fairest. Each person with dyslexia is different, we don’t want someone buying the product and realising that this is not for them. So we give them a free trial and see if it suits them first, then we have it reasonably priced there after. We are not here to exploit our users.
7. Would you say you’re predominantly a B2B company or a B2C company?
Right now, we’re B2B, as I said if anything we’re B2E. It’s expensive to acquire customers in a B2C market. You need a large marketing team. We decided we needed to build a user base through a B2B market and then go after B2C in due time.
8. How did the pandemic affect the company?
It hit us pretty hard at the start. The market slowed down a lot when we first went into lockdown. We couldn’t connect with the people we needed to. Previously we had the ability to talk to students in person, but that shut down. But in other ways it’s great. With testing and user development. Overall for education it’s accelerated tech which can only be beneficial and that can only be a positive. I think in general we’ve come out of it pretty well.
9. Have you won any awards recently? What impact did this have on the company?
We won 2 awards. We got 2nd place in the start-up awards Ireland sustainable and impact award. It’s an acknowledgement of our work over the year. The Social entrepreneurs Ireland Impact programme had the biggest impact. They’re been so good, helpful and responsive and want to support you in creating change and growing our business. Sophie and the team at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland have been amazing!
10. Are there any other companies or organisations in Ireland involved in Diversity and inclusion that you are a fan of?
Biowave is a company based in Galway that is doing amazing things in the area of inclusion. The product they have created is so cool, it’s an adaptive controller for people with disabilities. Positive Carbon is another one doing great things in the area of green economy and sustainability. In terms of organisations Social entrepreneurs Ireland are amazing, The Dyslexia Association of Ireland, The Dyspraxia Association, ADHD association are doing great work for Diversity and inclusion and have been for many years!